It is a truism that Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is one of its most important. Yet the bilateral relationship has often been troubled, sometimes deeply so, and may become so again.
The current success of the bilateral relationship can be attributed almost entirely to Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Until his presidency, Australia only kept good relations with previous presidents by bowing to Indonesia’s wishes.
With Yudhoyono, however, Australia found a genuine democrat and reformer with whom it had much in common, confirming that previous troubles reflected political rather than claimed cultural differences. However, Yudhoyono is now into his second and final term as president and his reformist agenda has become stalled by an unfriendly legislature and vested institutional interests.
As the new consolation prize Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd’s first job will be to try to implement the government’s ‘East Timor solution’ for asylum seekers. The issue whether this policy has any chance of success.
The first hurdle to be overcome was the unanimous vote by East Timor’s parliament, if with an incomplete sitting of members, opposing the idea. As a wealthy developed country, many East Timorese ask, why does Australia want to off-load its problems onto its impoverished neighbour? Why does Australia not properly shoulder its responsibilities under the Refugee Convention?
My son turned 18 recently, so he was eligible to vote for the first time. Although it is tempting to encourage one’s children to vote as one does, I have hoped he will vote not at my suggestion but as a matter of personal conscience. Yesterday, before he went to the polling booths, I offered him some advice.
Despite the way in which Australian election campaigns are conducted, the most recent being the worst example, I asked my son to consider the ‘Four Ps’; principle, policy, party and personality, in that order. It would be reasonable to argue that the Australian election process, which is now in mopping up stages, was constructed in the opposite order. So, why my advice?
As the policy-lite federal election runs down to the finish line, one issue widely regarded as just so much debate-neutralising fluff – locating an asylum seeker processing facility in East Timor – is now looking a lot more substantial than initially understood. Although talks about establishing a facility in East Timor are on hold due to the government’s caretaker mode, the issue is now being taken very seriously and considerably more favorably within East Timor itself.
The leaking of more than 91,000 US military intelligence files on the war in Afghanistan via the whistleblower website Wikileaks has, in all, told us some of what was known, much of what was suspected and all of which was feared by citizens of the states that are contributing to the war.
What might have been hoped for in yesterday’s newspapers was at least an outline of the leaks’ key findings, as reported internationally. This is of particular relevance given the Australia is a party to the war and sustains – and causes -- casualties.
Some of the key elements of the Afghanistan Wikileaks include that, at more than 91,000 documents, it vastly overshadows the 1971 Pentagon papers (a little over 4000 documents) and provides a near complete synopsis of how the war has been conducted between 2004 and the end of last year.
Aceh has much to teach the world – including those engaged in the reconstruction of Haiti.
It is now six months since Haiti was devastated by an earthquake and six years since the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 devastated Aceh.
Attention in Haiti has moved to the reconstruction accompanied by well publicized frustration at how slowly these efforts are going.
The vote by East Timor’s parliament yesterday to oppose the establishment of an Australian off-shore asylum seeker processing centre should not have come as a surprise. Parliamentarians from the government and opposition have been saying they were against the idea since it was announced last week.
The Australian government has certainly acted unperturbed by the vote, with Foreign Minister Stephen Smith saying the vote from the parliament did not necessarily reflect the position of the government. The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has similarly said that the process is "going forward".
The arrival of Foreign Affairs officials in East Timor this week to discuss a regional asylum seeker processing centre comes as the East Timorese parliament rejects the proposal. While East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has not closed the door on the idea, he has been, at best, polite about it. As an election issue, it will remain alive and kicking.
The government's policy of seeking talks with East Timor about establishing an offshore centre got off to a bungled start last week. Prime Minister Julia Gillard confirmed, denied and finally confirmed again that East Timor was the government's preferred site.
The announcement by the Gillard government that it intends to use East Timor as a processing stop-over for asylum seekers is either a very clever political ploy or a blunder that has the potential to derail her run for a second term for her government. At its heart appears to be a qualified endorsement from a man who has no capacity to offer it – East Timor’s President Jose Ramos-Horta.
The asylum seeker issues will no doubt be a central election issue and the Gillard government is looking to neutralize it. Using East Timor as a point of processing asylum seekers is smart because it keeps asylum seekers off-shore and hence satisfies voters who believed the ‘Pacific solution’ was a good idea.
Crossposted from geoffrobinson.info
In many respects modern Labor has returned to the type of inward musing that it engaged in after 1996. Then there was an assortment of vaguely defined rhetoric about the party’s perceived excessive social liberalism, these critics however were very vague as to exactly what alternative policies they proposed, instead they preferred to focus on what social liberals were alleged to think about former Labor voters. Gillard’s comments are interesting here: